Response to Juan Sebastian Campo from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
In an opinion article in the May 11 edition of Qcosta Rica Mr. Juan Sebastian Campos comments that the security forces here are not enough for crime prevention and that we are forced to live behind bars, gates and to fear for our lives. He asks “What are we willing to tolerate to curb crime?”
Among other things he mentions that para military units may be the answer.
But is he aware of what that may bring down on our heads?
The fact is that crime is going down, by about 2%, according to statistics of the Ministry of Justice. But by checking daily news reports we can see for ourselves that yes, the police are apprehending the criminals, the gangs that assault and steal in the streets, the international drug traffickers, and the individuals who use violence against family members or neighbors.
Even the case you site, of the men caught with tons of cocaine, shows that the police and the investigators are doing the job. Although they were allowed free on their own recognition, there are restrictions, just as there are on bonded criminals in the United States. However, the men have recently been sent to prison for six months preventive detention because they live close to the Panamanian border.
Because a suspect is let free does not mean the person will not be tried or jailed. A person here is supposedly innocent until proven guilty, and unless they are caught in the act or the crime is violent or there is a risk of fleeing the country that person is “free on bond”. Supposing that someone puts in a denuncia that you have marijuana plants in your yard would you accept going to jail until your trial?
What is Costa Rica doing to curb crime? At the same time that they are investigating and apprehending criminals, the various ministries are working together and have come up with programs to prevent crime, the targeted population being mainly young people and those in marginal areas. The program Avancemos which pays students to stay in school in effect helps them get better jobs or higher education. Another ‘preventive program’ involves sports and music and cultural activities to keep kids oriented in more wholesome activities and letting them know that they have potential to compete. Notice all the new skateboard parks and soccer activities.
Nos Cuidamos is a police program in the schools about drug prevention and values, including respect for others.
Organized communities help keep crime down. The police are invited into communities to analyze the needs and problems of the area and information and equipment are provided. Whistles, flashlights, sirens and organization do keep crime rates down.
Attention is also given to projects for women in low income areas including in the southern and northern zones, especially focusing on single mothers and teen mothers. Gun turn-ins, even legal registered guns, means less guns available for crime and domestic violence. According to the OIJ half the guns used in crime as registered. They also say that guns are reported lost or stolen every day.
But para-militaries, or militarized police are not the answer to cutting crime. They result in abuse and can lead to further armed conflict. We have seen para militaries in Mexico and Colombia that only widen the conflict and do not eliminate crime, and in the United States SWAT teams have caused so many violations of human rights, including erroneous home invasions and shootings, illegal searches and arrests. Shoot outs between para-militaries and criminals will cause even more panic and blood shed, and stray bullets hitting innocent victims.
Here in Costa Rica anti-riot (anti motines) are used in arresting gangs involved in car thefts, drug dealing and assaults. But several recent cases show that police have overreacted, using tear gas and night sticks against non violent demonstrators. That too, is criminal.
Crime has existed since Cain and Abel and police forces are needed . So are preventive programs and organized communities. But militarized police are not the answer.
Submitted by members of the Women’s Internacional League for Peace and Freedom, Heredia group. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Responsible: Mitzi Stark, ced. 184000557907.